Defending champs and legitimate contenders come face to face
Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Kolkata Knight Riders 4PM
M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore
Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir. Tied together by Delhi and cricket, two of India's best limited overs batsmen of recent years will face each other as captains of their respective franchises on Thursday.
The defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders were comfortable in their win against Delhi Daredevils in the opening game of the season but collapsed inexplicably in a modest chase against the Rajasthan Royals to put the batsmen under pressure.
Gautam Gambhir and Jacques Kallis will definitely want to make up for the below par performances in the first two games. Gambhir, a proud man, will especially be eager to set his house in order and if he gets into the stride in which he was in KKR's previous visit to Bangalore in 2012, RCB could be in for long hard day in the field.
Jacques Kallis is a focused player known for his almost mechanical consistency and he will want to get back to anchoring the KKR innings at Bangalore on a pitch where he collected bags of runs in 2010.
Eoin Morgan, another former RCBian, was brilliant in his knock at Jaipur and will be as big a threat at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
KKR's bowling has been on the money though. Brett Lee got a wicket off the first ball of the tournament!
Sunil Narine has been his unreadable self, his alternative Sachithra Senanayake has not been played yet. Rajat Bhatia's gentle medium pace is tricky as ever. L Balaji has been accurate; Laxmi Ratan Shukla has stepped up as the fifth bowler. Kallis however has not impressive and that is another wrong he would like to right at Bangalore.
RCB go into the game with a better awareness of where they are as a team. The pace attack has fired impressively without Zaheer Khan, the two Muralis have restricted and dismissed batsmen. Jaydev Unadkat has been the surprise package with his restrictive lines, Vinay had a blip with the Super Over while Moises Henriques struck two crucial blows in Hyderabad. Their performance at Bangalore in the return game against Sunrisers did dip from the previous game but that was also a consequence of Virat's bowling plans. He will have to ration out the run choking, false stroke inducing overs from Muralis Muttiah and Kartik longer, keep them in the game for the death overs to rein in KKR's batsmen like Yusuf Pathan who is suspect against good spin.
Moises Henriques' place is safe thanks to his batting, unless Kohli decides to go in with Ravi Rampaul or Chris Barnwell.
Kohli will be most confident about the batting and he leads from the front. His dismissal after looking in total control against Mumbai triggered a collapse and he was dismissed in a crucial phase of the Hyderabad game after having laid the tough groundwork. He came back emphatically, single-mindedly cutting and carving the Sunrisers to respond to comments on RCB's dependence on Chris Gayle. He wore the Orange Cap briefly on Tuesday and will want to have it for a longer period.
Chris Gayle himself had two poor games but will fancy himself to come good again at home on Thursday; in 2011 he had stepped off the plane, donned a helmet and smashed a hundred against the same opposition. His fellow West Indian Sunil Narine, KKR's bowling lynchpin now wasn't in that game but Gayle would like to stamp his territorial authority.
Mayank Agarwal reveled in his old spot, with a neat cameo to open the batting on Tuesday. AB de Villiers should be jet lag free against KKR, Arun Karthik has given no reason for complaint but RCB could still be in trouble if they lost a bunch of wickets inside the first 10 overs.
Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli. Defending champion and legitimate contender. While the former strives to regain his place in the team with a strong season, the latter will want to show just how far ahead he has come. Both will come face to face on Thursday to give us the first look at one of the many interesting sub plots lined up this season.